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Pakistani air strikes kill 21 militants: officials

By on Monday, October 13th, 2014

Pakistani air strikes killed at least 21 militants Sunday in attacks on their hideouts in a restive northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, officials said.

The attacks were launched in the Kuki Khel area of the Khyber tribal district, where the Taliban and another banned Islamist group, Lashkar-e-Islam, have taken refuge.

“In precision air strikes, at least 10 militants were killed and their three hideouts were destroyed in Khyber,” a senior military official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Separate airstrikes also killed eleven other militants in the remote Datta Khel village of restive North Waziristan tribal district and destroyed two militant hide outs, the official said.

Local government and intelligence officials confirmed the death toll.

Pakistan has been battling Islamist groups in its semi-autonomous tribal belt since 2004 after its army entered the region to search for Al-Qaeda fighters who had fled across the border following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

In June the army began an offensive in the North Waziristan district after a bloody raid on Karachi Airport ended faltering peace talks with the Taliban.

North Waziristan had become a major base for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which rose up against the state in 2007.

The United States had long called for military action in the tribal areas because militant groups there had targeted NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s army says it has killed more than a thousand militants and lost 86 soldiers since the start of the operation.

The death toll and identity of those killed is impossible to verify because journalists do not have regular access to the conflict zones. Critics say many of the dead were non-combatants.

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F-35 Returns to Limited Flight, Officials Rule Out Farnborough

While the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter has returned to limited flying, it will not be appearing at the Farnborough International Airshow in the United Kingdom, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a Pentagon news conference today.

The F-35 fleet was grounded July 3 in the wake of a June 23 engine fire on the runway at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Navy and Air Force airworthiness authorities approved the F-35’s return to flight yesterday.

The return has a limited flight clearance that includes an engine inspection regimen and restricted flight rules, Kirby said, adding that the limits will remain in place until the root cause of the engine fire is identified and corrected.

While the investigation is not yet complete, “we haven’t seen anything that points to a systemic issue across the fleet with respect to the engine,” the admiral said.

Even with the return to flight, U.S. and British officials decided not to send Marine Corps and Royal Air Force F-35B aircraft across the Atlantic to participate in the Farnborough airshow. “This decision was reached after a consultation with senior leaders and airworthiness authorities, despite the decision by airworthiness authorities to clear the aircraft to return to limited flight,” Kirby said.

“While we’re disappointed that we’re not going to be able to participate in the airshow,” he added, “we remain fully committed to the program itself and look forward to future opportunities to showcase its capabilities to allies and to partners.”

Under the rules of the flight resumption, the F-35s are limited to a maximum speed of Mach 0.9 and 18 degrees of angle of attack. They can go from minus 1 G to a 3 G’s, the admiral said. After three hours of flight time, each front fan section of each engine has to be inspected with a borescope. “That was a pretty significant limitation in terms of being able to fly them across the Atlantic,” he added.

This is not the first aircraft to have problems like this, Kirby noted, and it won’t be the last. “New programs often go through these kinds of challenges,” he said. “We’re confident that we’re going to get through this.”

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Air Force officials address systemic problems in ICBM force

After meeting with thousands of Airmen in the ICBM community, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said she believes there is a systemic problem among missile launch officers.

James and Lt. Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, the commander of the Global Strike Command, briefed the press Jan. 30, as part of the on-going examination of this leg of the nuclear triad following revelations that missile launch officers had cheated on a test at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

The number of those implicated in the Malmstrom scandal has risen to 92, James said.

“I heard repeatedly from teammates that the need for perfection has created a climate of undue stress and fear,” James told reporters. “I heard repeatedly that the system can be very punitive, come down very hard in the case of even small, minor issues that crop up, but not equally rewarding or incentivized for excellent behavior or good work.”

Personnel of all ranks complained to her about micro-management.

“I also heard that although we, as senior leaders, talk about the importance of the mission that the team in the field doesn’t always see that talk backed up by concrete action,” she said.

Fixing the systemic issues will require a holistic approach, the secretary said, and that will be part of the plan she presents to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in 60 days.

James had another observation that the ICBM force has lost the distinction between training and testing. It is also to make mistakes in training, she said.

“The idea is to learn and do better,” she said.

But training tests have assumed an outsized importance, she said.

“Although … a passing grade on these tests is 90 percent, the missileers are still driven to score 100 percent, all of the time,” she said. “This is because their commanders are using these test scores to be a top differentiator, if not the sole differentiator on who gets promoted.

“I believe that a very terrible irony in this whole situation is that these missileers didn’t cheat to pass, they cheated because they felt driven to get 100 percent, getting 90 percent or 95 percent was considered a failure in their eyes,” she continued.

The secretary wondered whether missileers are receiving the right kind of leadership training. She and other Air Force leaders will examine this and include those recommendations in the report to the defense secretary.

This leads to a campaign to reinvigorate the service’s core values.

“We’re going to go back to basics, and we’re going to remind people what that means,” she said. “We’re going to do this across the Air Force.”

The secretary will also look at “nuclear incentives, accolades and recognition.”

If the ICBM mission is important, is the service rewarding those involved in it appropriately? The Air Force is working with the Navy and U.S. Strategic Command to share best practices on this subject.

Among the issues the service will study is whether to consider nuclear duty incentive pay and whether to award ribbons and medals for participation in this career field.

“This pertains very much to the enlisted team, as well as to the officer team, because they’re working very hard every day as well,” James said.

Finally it comes down to money. Nuclear facilities are aging and units are undermanned, James said. If the mission is so important, shouldn’t it be funded better?

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Russia Boosting Arms Shipments to Syria – US Officials

Russia has increased its weapons shipments to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government since last year, military aid that is likely “more significant” than Iranian arms supplies to Damascus, according to senior US diplomats.

“It has increased from a year ago. There are more deliveries, and in some cases, they are militarily extremely significant,” Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria, told a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week.

Ford said he had not seen a “detailed estimate of the dollar value” of the Russian arms shipments, which US officials have said are propping up Assad in his government’s raging civil war against Syrian rebel forces.

Giving an example of the deliveries’ impact, however, Ford said Gen. Salim Idris, commander of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, told him that Syrian air force jets refurbished by Russia and delivered to Assad’s forces “make a huge difference.”

“I think the Russians would help everyone get to the negotiating table if they would stop these deliveries,” Ford said.

Russian officials have repeatedly defended the weapons shipments, saying Moscow is fulfilling previously signed contracts and not violating international law with the deliveries.

Ford told Thursday’s hearing that the United States and its allies had succeeded in getting one Syria-bound Russian arms delivery sent back by convincing an insurance company to withdraw its coverage from the ship carrying the cargo.

“But that’s a rare success,” Ford said. “ … It would be great if we could make better progress with the Russians.”

Thomas Countryman, assistant US secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, told the hearing that Russian arms deliveries have become “probably more significant than what Iran provides in terms of military assistance.”

He said Russia is losing credibility in the Arab world and around the Middle East by giving its “unswerving support to the Syrian regime.”

The United States and several other countries accuse Assad’s government of being behind an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that Washington claims left more than 1,400 dead.

The Syrian government in turn has accused rebel groups it has been battling since March 2011 of being behind the attack, though it agreed to a Russia-brokered deal to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal.

The deal was struck amid threats by Washington that it would carry out military strikes against Syrian government targets in response to the Aug. 21 attack.

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Pentagon may take charge of arming Syrian rebels: US officials

Washington is weighing expanding support for Syrian rebels by having the Pentagon take charge of arming the opposition instead of a clandestine effort by the CIA, officials said Wednesday.

“It’s under consideration,” said a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“If and how (it would be done) are both questions being discussed,” the official told AFP.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the possible change on Wednesday.

After concluding in June that the Syrian regime used sarin gas in a small-scale attack, President Barack Obama’s administration decided to start supplying weapons to the rebels through the Central Intelligence Agency.

But after another alleged chemical weapons attack on a larger scale — and as lawmakers debate whether to endorse Obama’s call for military action against the regime — the administration is looking at ratcheting up support for the rebels, two US officials said.

Lawmakers have complained that promised weapons have yet to arrive, putting the opposition at a disadvantage against President Bashar al-Assad’s heavily-armed forces.

Obama’s deputies at hearings Wednesday and Thursday acknowledged the holdup, while suggesting the administration was open to additional assistance for the rebels.

Although the administration was focused on possible strikes to “deter” Assad’s regime from employing chemical weapons, it was ready to examine how to provide more help to the opposition, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators on Tuesday.

“I think that subsequent to that (military action), we would probably return to have a discussion about what we might do with the moderate opposition in a — in a more overt way,” he said.

Under the CIA, support for the rebels is deemed covert and details of the assistance remain secret. If the Pentagon took over, however, the cost and scope of the aid would no longer be classified.

Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee along with Dempsey, acknowledged that the opposition was still waiting for some military help.

“There are things that haven’t gotten there yet,” Kerry said.

On Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the top US diplomat called for ramping up support for the “moderate” opposition.

“I continue to believe that the moderate opposition is key to Syria’s future and that we must redouble our efforts to support them as soon as possible,” he said.

The administration has been cautious in its approach to the rebels, citing concerns about Islamist extremists in the ranks with links to Al-Qaeda.

And delays in delivering weapons have reportedly been due to vetting efforts by the CIA.

But the suspected chemical weapons attack two weeks ago that allegedly killed hundreds has led the administration to consider expanding the scope of its support with more weapons and training, possibly with the help of US special forces.

If a decision is made, the change would not occur overnight, the US official said.

“It’s a process that would take some time,” the official said.

Senator John McCain, who has urged military intervention in Syria, said he had asked the president in a meeting Monday about the CIA’s delays in supplying weapons to rebels.

According to McCain, Obama confirmed the problem and told him “that that’s going to change.”

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Officials: Cuts, Unstable Budget Threaten Intelligence Mission

By on Monday, March 4th, 2013

Along with al-Qaida, nuclear proliferation and cyber threats, budget instability and the prospect of further deep spending cuts are among the nation’s most pressing national security challenges, top defense intelligence officials told a congressional panel yesterday.

Michael G. Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn testified during the unclassified part of a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee.

Elements of the intelligence community that are part of DOD include DIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, Vickers said. Nearly 60,000 civilians and 123,000 service members support DOD’s national and military intelligence missions at home and alongside combat forces worldwide.

Defense intelligence partners include counterparts in the broader intelligence community, he noted, including the director of national intelligence, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and many other elements.

President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request seeks $19.2 billion for the military intelligence program, the undersecretary said, which funds intelligence, counterintelligence and intelligence-related programs, projects and activities that provide capabilities to meet warfighter operational and tactical requirements.

Vickers reviewed the top intelligence challenges for the Defense Department and the nation:

  • Transitioning the mission in Afghanistan to Afghan leadership;
  • Preparing for increased instability during the Arab world’s historic transition;
  • Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
  • Ensuring continued U.S. access to the global commons and critical regions such as East Asia; and
  • Continuing to provide decisive intelligence to policymakers, operators and warfighters.

“Finally,” Vickers added, “we must ensure the continued economic leadership of the United States. This is the foundation upon which our long-term national security rests. At the same time as our intelligence and defense budgets are declining, the challenges … are increasing and becoming more complex.”

He described intelligence as a major source of U.S. advantage that “informs wise policy and enables precision operations. It is our front line of defense.” To maintain and bolster that front line, Vickers added, requires critical investment in a range of capabilities.

The war against al-Qaida and instability in the Middle East and North Africa make it necessary for DOD to continue enhancing its counterterrorism capabilities, he said.

“Our national security strategy in Asia will require significantly different investments over the next 15 years … to obtain the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities most appropriate to the unique challenges of ensuring access in the Pacific,” the undersecretary said.

Countering cyber threats and nuclear proliferation calls for new resources and new ways of operating, he added.

The department is improving its human intelligence capabilities by establishing the Defense Clandestine Service, he said, and critical intelligence capabilities like overhead and cryptologic architectures continue to need modernization and recapitalization.

“Budgetary instability and the prospect of further deep cuts,” Vickers said, “put these investments at risk.”

When Flynn addressed the panel, he noted that the nation is at a moment of transition and that the global security environment presents increasingly complex challenges and a growing list of threats and adversaries.

“Demands on the U.S. intelligence system have skyrocketed in recent years, and these demands are only expected to increase,” the general said. Noting that the DIA puts its people first, he added that sequestration — the deep and sudden budget cuts scheduled to begin tomorrow — will negatively affect the agency’s more than 16,000 employees in 262 locations worldwide, including 142 countries and 31 states.

“We cannot accomplish our mission without the men and women who serve this nation so well,” Flynn said. “The impact sequestration will have on an organization that depends on human resources for its capability is astoundingly complex and far-reaching.”

The director characterized a geometric impact that includes the cost of lost opportunity and the cost of rebuilding capability the agency stands to lose.

“What we cannot predict is the real impact on national security of that lost capability,” Flynn added.

“If we think that our adversaries will use this time to take a strategic pause, or that we will somehow manage to stay ahead of the most potentially catastrophic intelligence issues while opting to take cuts against the low threat areas, then we are deluding ourselves,” he observed.

“The real cost of this action is in public insecurity and potential strategic surprise,” the director said.

At best, Flynn added, “we may never know what key intelligence we have missed as a result of sequestration. At worst, I fear we may find ourselves rehashing another major intelligence failure.”

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Boeing’s Indian deal may take six months: officials

By on Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Indian military officials said Wednesday that negotiations with Boeing to buy helicopters worth $2.4 billion could take up to six months to conclude.

New Delhi last month selected the US aeronautical giant to provide 15 Chinook CH-47F heavy-lift helicopters and 22 AH-64D Block III Apache helicopters for its expanding air force.

“Once the company has been selected, commercial negotiations begin almost immediately,” a senior air force official told AFP.

“The duration of the negotiations can vary between three and six months but if it takes longer it does not mean the deal is going bad,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Boeing’s twin-rotor Chinook was chosen over Russia-based MiL Moscow Helicopter Plant’s Mi-26, while the Apache was selected over the Mi-28, the official said, confirming earlier media reports.

There was no immediate official comment from the Indian Air Force or Boeing.

Dow Jones Newswires said the Chinook deal was estimated at $1 billion while the Apache deal was worth $1.4 billion.

The decision marks a significant shift for India away from its traditional arms supplier Russia.

Earlier this year, France’s Rafale won a competition to provide 126 combat jets for the Indian Air Force.

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